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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Wealthy Are Abused By Kelo Too

Finally some rich guys understand the horror of the Kelo eminent domain case. When the stakes were low-end homes of middle-class citizens, only free market libertarians (and a few others of liberal or conservative stripes) were concerned over the wanton theft of property by government.

A local government is condemning an upper class private property for conversion into public property. Not for conversion into a bird sanctuary. But for conversion into a public golf course. To recap, prior to Kelo, the government could only condemn private property if the property was going for public use---a library, widening a public road or to serve another public function. And that property had to be "blighted---in some measure of provable disrepair; i.e. a ghetto.

Kelo changed that standard to "public purpose" and opined that taking private property from one citizen (or group) and giving it to another (a developer) could be legal since there would be improved up-scale homes replacing more moderate homes or the property would go to a business that would increase tax receipts.

A WSJ essay tells a new side of the excessiveness of the Kelo ruling. Now, instead of modest homes being taken, a private golf country club is being taken. The mayor of North Hills, in Long island, is taking a swank private country club and will convert it into a public course. Nifty idea. What citizens will run to the support of rich guys losing their (probably mostly white) club. And making it available to regular citizens on a first-come first served basis appeals to egalitarian sensibilities of many Americans.

Attorney Edward Herlihy explains the distinction between Kelo and this case:

The facts in Kelo illustrate the sort of public purpose the Supreme Court had in mind. As the Supreme Court explained, New London is "depressed" and "economically distressed," with an "ailing economy" and "high unemployment," and the city had "carefully formulated an economic development plan" to address its economic problems. The city's purpose was accordingly a proper public one, a bare majority of the court concluded, because it wasn't intended just "to bestow a private benefit."

Contrast North Hills. It's the richest community in the Northeast, and one of the 10 richest in the country. Drive down its main drag, Shelter Rock Road, and you'll learn why: You'll see gated development after gated development, and behind the gates and the fences, you'll see many huge, multimillion-dollar homes. You'll see no economic deprivation here.

While I recognize these differences between Kelo and Deepdale (the name of the country club), I will add another reason to be against this taking by government. Basically, this attempt to wrest private property for public use should be an affront to the First Amendment. The First Amendment allows for "the right of the people peaceably to assemble". That means people who find whatever commonality among them, from race to wealth to political affinity, can choose to associate with each other for any legal purpose.

Transport yourself back to Jim Crow days. Say a Bull Connor-type mayor saw a group of blacks congregating in a lodge regularly. He learns they are discussing a planned bus boycott. So he uses eminent domain to take over the lodge and "sells" it to the KKK for their use. This is a logical upshot from the eminent domain broadening.

The Constitution is a document that enumerates limited powers of government. The Bill of Rights is largely superfluous but does reiterate areas where the government can never go. Powers not specifically enumerated remain in the possession of the people. One of those is property rights. There is no end to the abuse of private property rights with Kelo and its progeny.

Therefore, even if you are a protector of the little guy, please recognize that these wealthy club members are little like you when the opponent is the government. The Deepdale fat cats have rights under the Constitution like the rest of us.

4 Comments:

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